AUSTIN EDITION col Treasure of past saved

Austin's Paramount Theater has new role

Slowly but surely one of Austin's most revered treasures of the past is on its way to becoming one of the community's most revered treasures of the future.

The Austin Area Commission for the Arts next month will hold a concert to celebrate the completion of the latest successful phase of a drive to raise money for restoration of the historic Paramount Theater.

The theater, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, has stood on Fourth Avenue Northeast since 1928. It was one of the most noteworthy cultural and entertainment venues in the region throughout most of its history, playing host first to vaudeville acts and then to first-run movies.

But the Paramount began to lose some of its luster after it closed as a movie house in 1977. Like many theaters throughout the region it fell victim to multi-plex theaters outside the city's core. For the next decade it housed a nightclub, bar and comedy club.


But in the late 1980s, members of the Austin Area Commission for the Arts began talking about renovating the stately brick building. They started the ball rolling in 1990 when they organized a fund-raising auction to come up with enough money for the commission to purchase the building from private owners. The commission has maintained a persistent attitude and steady, progressive pace where the renovation is concerned ever since.

Over the past 10 years the commission has obtained grants from a wide variety of private and public groups to fund the project. They include the McKnight Foundation, the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council, and the Minnesota Arts Board.

The city of Austin has also been attempting to obtain at least $500,000 in renovation funding from the Legislature, but has been turned down during the last two sessions.

In the meantime, groups are using the theater for concerts and other events and the private fund-raising effort is continuing. A concert has been set for Sept. 7 to celebrate the latest phase of the fund-raising effort, which resulted in $250,000 being pledged for the project.

Those who attend the concert will have an opportunity to enjoy the latest improvements that have been made at the Paramount, including installation of air conditioning and new doors in the lobby.

The next stage of the fund drive will raise money for an expansion of the main stage, and the third phase will establish an endowment fund.

The Paramount project is an example of what can be done in our community when a core group of individuals -- dedicated to a worthy project -- sets its mind to it.

Thanks to these citizens, this historic gem of the past is indeed on its way to becoming one of the city's treasures of the future.

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